Thomas joins Bernie Parent in rare triple-trophy win
Shawn P. Roarke
LAS VEGAS –Tim Thomas has no plans to rest on his laurels.
After authoring one of the most amazing goaltending stories in the history of the game – wrapped up Wednesday night with his winning of the Vezina Trophy as the League's best goalie this season – Thomas is already looking forward to a sequel.
He has little interest in contemplating his accomplishments this season, a list that includes setting the mark for best save percentage in a season in NHL history, leading the League in goals-against average this season, winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as most valuable player in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, earning the Vezina Trophy on Wednesday night and, most importantly, claiming the first Stanley Cup of his career exactly one week ago with a shutout in Game 7 against Vancouver.
"I'm still playing and the way I feel, I still have many good years ahead of me," said the 37-year-old Thomas. "The goal is always to get better. I think that should be everybody's approach in life in whatever they choose to do. I'd like to see what I can do to raise the bar higher."
It will certainly be hard to move the bar significantly after the campaign Thomas put together in 2010-11, a season that began in doubt for Thomas as he tried to come back from major hip surgery in the summer.
"He had a tremendous season," Detroit defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom told NHL.com Wednesday night after winning the seventh Norris Trophy of his career. "Look at what he did during the regular season, coming back from the injury he spoke about in his speech, and, on top of that, winning the Conn Smythe and having the kind of season he had in the playoffs, too. Then, to win the Cup – it doesn't get any better than that."
Especially when you consider where the journey began for Thomas.
He entered the 2010-11 season not as one of the best goalies in the world, but as a somewhat frightened player coming off a major injury and an uncertain future.
After suffering his hip injury the previous season, he had lost his starting job to Tuukka Rask, the Bruins' goalie of the future. Plus, he wasn't sure how his rehabilitated hip would hold up to the rigors of NHL play. But, he was willing to put in the work to chase his former glory, which culminated in his first Vezina Trophy just two years earlier.
"I had a pretty good idea pretty early into camp that I would be able to play at a level that would be high enough to play in the NHL and earn my own self-respect back," Thomas said.
To get to that level, he had to ask his body questions that it had never entertained before. The answers, at times, were as painful as anything he had ever encountered.
"Going through the work that it took to get to the level I wanted to be at, that was hard work," Thomas said. "I was working out three times a day and pretty much exhausted all the time because I knew that is what it would take. But, it's pretty much all paid off and it's a story that if you put in the work, it'll pay off."
Thomas had the best possible start to the season, as he won his first game by shutout. Then he won his next seven starts to set a new club record for consecutive wins to start a season. He won his first eight road decisions. Suddenly, he was a No. 1 goalie again.
Only then could his focus turn to his goal of recapturing the Vezina he had surrendered the previous season.
"It's been a long journey. It's been over a year – this chapter anyways," Thomas said. "And it's obviously been very rewarding."
Zdeno Chara was with Thomas every step of the journey, which ended exactly a week ago with the two teammates hugging on the Rogers Arena ice -- celebrating a Stanley Cup victory that each had dreamed about for most of their lives.
"Timmy and I actually have similar roads and bumps that we have had to overcome on those roads," Chara told NHL.com. "I'm just happy for him. He had an unbelievable year and he won basically everything besides MVP.
"We know without Tim it would be so much harder – or maybe not even possible – to win the ultimate prize. He's been working very hard and been very focused since the beginning of the training camp and he just continued to get better and better. He's so competitive, we all know that. He just wants to win and that is all you need from your goalie."
"I'm still playing and the way I feel, I still have many good years ahead of me. The goal is always to get better. I think that should be everybody's approach in life in whatever they choose to do. I'd like to see what I can do to raise the bar higher."
-- Tim Thomas
So, what does the future hold for the intensely driven Thomas? Perhaps he gleaned his first challenge for the upcoming season on Wednesday night.
By winning the Vezina, the Conn Smythe and the Stanley Cup in the same season, Thomas became just the second goalie in NHL history to pull off that impressive hat trick. Philadelphia's Bernie Parent was the first to do it during the 1973-74 season.
He did it again the next season, a feat that Thomas was keenly aware of after he was informed that Parent used Twitter to welcome him to the exclusive three-trophy club.
He admits that duplicating Parent's back-to-back trophy sweeps might be just the motivation to propel him past any thoughts of a Stanley Cup hangover.
"I would love to be able to accomplish something like that," Thomas said. "So many things have to fall into place. I bet Bernie would agree the same thing. It would take a unique set of circumstances to win that two years in a row like he did. It's an amazing accomplishment."
One that Thomas will eagerly embrace, it seems, to raise the bar on his performance next season.